Dreadnought battleship U.S.S. Texas (BB-35) is the last of her kind. The ship was launched in 1912 and based on on the revolutionary design of British battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought. Battleships of this type were significantly larger and more powerful than any warship that came before them, and for a time, U.S.S. Texas was the most heavily armed ship in the world.

At 107 years old, the U.S.S. Texas is one of the oldest surviving warships.  She served in 2 World Wars across many oceans, firing countless rounds of ammunition from her 14-inch main batteries.  Today, she’s a floating museum ship, moored at San Jacinto State Park in Texas.

Early History and World War I

Texas was one of two New York class battleships and was ordered (along with her sister ship New York) in 1910.  Construction began in 1911, and she was finally completed and commissioned in 1914.

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Battleship Texas in 1917.  Source

During WWI, Texas steamed across the Atlantic to assist the British war effort.  She served primarily as an escort vessel, protecting vital merchant ships from German warships, planes, and submarines.  During this period, she became the first American aircraft carrier, when she successfully launched a biplane off one of her turrets.

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First ‘Aircraft Carrier’: U.S.S. Texas in 1919, note the biplane and launching ramp atop turret #2. Source

1920-1941 (Interwar)

By 1922, Texas (in her original configuration) was already obsolete due to the introduction of larger ‘super-dreadnought’ battleships such as Arizona and PennsylvaniaTexas was laid up and underwent extensive modernization.  Her 14 original coal-fired boilers were replaced with six efficient oil-fired boilers, her armament was updated, and her original cage-style masts substituted with modern tripod masts. Additionally, she received a new outfit of anti-aircraft weapons, and one of her funnels was removed.

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Modernized U.S.S. Texas after refit.  Source

Texas was one of the earliest warships to be fitted with radar, and she served as an experimental platform for radar-directed gunfire.

World War II

On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, damaging or destroying eight battleships and numerous other vessels. With battleships California, Nevada, Utah, West Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Tennessee, and Oklahoma either damaged or destroyed, U.S.S. Texas became ever more valuable; she was one of a handful of battleships spared from the attack, as she was stationed in the Atlantic at the time.

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Pearl Harbor attack: (Right to Left)  U.S.S. Arizona (BB-39), sunk and on fire.  U.S.S. Tennessee (BB-43), damaged.  U.S.S. West Virginia (BB-48), sunk. Source

During WWII, Texas served primarily as an escort vessel in the Atlantic, warding off attack from enemy warships and aircraft.  On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, Texas was called into action at Normandy.  Stationed off Omaha beach, Texas fired off all 10 of her 14-inch guns at an alarming pace.  In just 34 minutes, Texas lobbed off 255 14-inch shells, achieving an average rate-of-fire of 7.5 rounds per minute.

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Craters left by U.S.S. Texas at Pointe Du Hoc, France.  Credit: Survoldefrance.fr

In early 1945, Texas was sent off to the Pacific theater to fight against the Japanese.  She participated in the bombardment of Iwo Jima, shelling the island and beating back Japanese forces at the request of the Marines.  The following month, she steamed towards Okinawa for Operation Iceberg, where she tore up the beaches for six days preceding the Marine landings.  Gunfire support from Texas and similar battleships proved invaluable to ground troops, beating the enemy off of the beaches and far enough inland to allow an effective landing to take place.

Texas remained at Okinawa for over a month, serving primarily as a mobile aircraft-destroying platform, fending off and destroying the deadly Kamikaze suicide bombers, and protecting the supply ships and Marines ashore.  After the Japanese surrender on the 15th of August, 1945, Texas steamed to Norfolk, VA, for deactivation.

After World War II

Texas was officially decommissioned on April 21, 1948.  Just before decommissioning, the State of Texas Legislature raised $225,000 to tow the ship to a pier near Houston, to display as a permanent museum and monument.

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Texas in the Houston Ship Channel on her way to become a permanent museum, 1948.  Source

Today, Texas occupies the same slip where she was towed in 1948, at San Jacinto State Park.  The ship was entrusted to the care of the newly formed Battleship Texas Commission and proved a popular attraction.  The ship was designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark and National Historic Landmark in 1975 and 1976, respectively.

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National Historic Engineering Landmark: Triple-Expansion steam engine, similar to the type used on U.S.S. Texas.  Source

Today

Over a period between 1948 and 1988, rust and neglect proved a more formidable adversary to the ship than two World Wars.  By 1983, the vessel had decayed to such an extent that she risked sinking in her berth.  Recognizing the urgency of the matter, the State of Texas transferred responsibility of the battleship to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who subsequently surveyed the ship and dry-docked it for essential repairs in 1988.

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BB-35 in dry-dock, with corrosion clearly visible at the stern.  Source

In dry-dock, Texas received a major overhaul.  Many holes that had formed in the hull were patched, and the porous concrete deck was replaced with wood and sealed to keep rainwater out.  A new coat of paint was added to the hull and superstructure, and the tripod mast was removed, restored and re-welded into place.  The ship returned to the water in 1990 and was towed back to its berth.

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Repairs being made in dry dock. Source

Unfortunately, 30 years after the original dry-docking, Texas began to sink again. Large holes, some larger than 36″, have opened up at the waterline again, and the ship routinely takes on large volumes of water.  As of 2019, the ship is 107 years old; she slid into the water the same year the Titanic made her fateful maiden voyage.

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Battleship Texas listing to starboard after pump failure.  Source

The battleship’s condition is dire.  Pumps are working 24/7, pumping out hundreds of thousands of gallons of seawater daily to keep the ship afloat.  To make matters worse, the steel around the holes is already too corroded to repair.

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Starboard side of battleship Texas, March 2019.

Eventually, the Parks Department wants to turn the battleship’s little slip into a permanent dry berth, to make repairs possible and preserve the ship long-term.  In 2008, the State approved 25 million dollars in funding for the dry berth project, but the operation stalled, and the ship requires additional repairs before construction can begin. As of March 2019, additional funding for the project was not yet secured, but the Parks Department still plans on moving forward.

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Permanent dry-berth rendering.  Source

I paid the U.S.S. Texas a visit in March, and while its condition is deteriorating, many areas were in excellent shape.  Volunteers continuously work against the clock to patch leaks and restore more areas of the ship, to make them safe for public viewing.  Having been aboard the larger Iowa class battleships, it was indeed an interesting experience to visit Texas and see just how much technology has changed.  I had a wonderful time on the historic ship, and I highly recommend visiting.

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Photo from my visit, on the bridge looking forward.  14-inch gun turrets 1 and 2 visible. March 2019.

Hopefully, the ship will soon be out of the water and safe from further corrosion, and future generations can continue to enjoy this incredible monument. She is the last of her kind; the last dreadnought battleship.

__________________________________

The ship is currently located at:

3523 Independence Pkwy, La Porte, TX 77571

Please consider making a donation to help keep this piece of American history alive.  If you’re ever in the Houston area, take the short drive to the La Porte and take a tour of the ship.

Visit BattleshipTexas.org to make a donation or to learn more about the ship.

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